As Democrats escalate calls for tougher gun laws, conservative House members offer pushback but few alternatives to gun control laws
In the wake of a sniper attack on Dallas law enforcement officers that left five officers dead and nine wounded, House Democrats have continued to push for a vote on gun control legislation before the congressional session ends on Friday.
If this Congress does not have the guts to lead, then we are responsible for all of the bloodshed of the streets of America, whether it be at the hands of the people wearing a uniform or whether its at the hands of criminals, Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond, who represents parts of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, said on Friday.
House Republicans are refusing to allow an up or down vote on Democrats gun control bills, including a bill to expand background checks on gun sales, which some researchers believe could help reduce urban gun violence. At least 11 House Republicans represent large cities with murder rates even higher than Chicagos. All of them have A ratings from the National Rifle Association, earned from a record of supporting gun rights and opposing gun control.
Chicago, despite its status as emblematic of the gun violence epidemic, does not have the highest per capita murder rate in the country and urban districts represented by Democrats are not the only cities that struggle with gun violence, according to FBI crime data from 2014, the most recent year available.
House Democrats who represent large cities with higher murder rates than Chicago all participated in the Democrats sit-in for gun control votes. Several have been leaders in the gun violence protests, including Congressman John Lewis, who represents Atlanta, and Congressman John Larson, who represents Hartford.
Its easy to find on-the-record statements from most of the 11 House Republicans who represent these cities opposing new gun control laws, including expanded background checks. But when the Guardian asked them what actions they are taking to address the high levels of violence in their districts, many representatives simply did not respond.
A few of these representatives offered alternatives to gun control that they believe will do more to reduce gun violence: better re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated Americans, job creation or improvements to the mental health system.
Congressman French Hill represents Little Rock, Arkansas, which has a murder rate of 21.7 per 100,000 people in 2014. Hill introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give grants to historically black colleges and universities to run education programs to help formerly incarcerated Americans successfully transition back into their communities.
If the program is successful it would curb the recidivism rate and lead to a reduction of all types of crime, including violence, Hills spokesman, Michael Siegel, said.
Hill has also expressed support for a comprehensive approach to mental health as a way to address both gun suicide and mass shootings.
If people get the mental health treatment they need, theyre not on the streets or in a jail cell, Hill said in an interview with an Arkansas NPR affiliate last week.
Gun crimes are committed by criminals, and a criminal isnt going to let a background check stop him from obtaining a gun, Congressman Steve Chabot, who represents part of Cincinnati, said in a statement. It is much easier to suggest that we pass more gun laws, than it is to try to fix the real problems facing our communities.
Cincinnati had a murder rate of 20.2per 100,000 people. Chabot said that helping people in impoverished communities escape the cycle of poverty is a key to reducing violence a perspective shared by many community advocates in cities affected by high rates of violence. As chairman of the House small business committee, Chabot said, he has worked to make it easier for small businesses to grow and create jobs. The availability of good jobs, he said, gives people hope that a better life is attainable, making it less likely that they fall into the traps that lead to gun violence.
A spokeswoman for Rep Brad Wenstrup, who also represents part of Cincinnati, pointed to an op-ed co-authored by the two congressmen as an articulation of Wenstrups views on reducing gun violence.
Perhaps effective administration of [existing] gun laws may do much more to save lives than an ineffective ban of devices that are arbitrarily called assault weapons, they wrote. The two legislators also endorsed Rep Tim Murphys mental health reform bill, which passed the House on Wednesday with an overwhelming majority of votes, as a way to address gun violence and gun suicide.
Domestically, America is dealing with a mental health crisis that far too often results in violent, murderous behavior against others, as well as suicides, both by military personnel and civilians, they wrote.
Experts say mental illness is not an important factor in most homicides, though it is a crucial factor in gun suicide. Even magically curing all serious bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression would only reduce overall American violence by 4%, one leading researcher estimated.
Other Republicans did not respond to requests for comment. They include five members of Congress who represent cities with murder rates that are more than triple the national average: Rep Jackie Walorski, whose district includes South Bend, Indiana, Rep Kevin Yoder, whose district includes Kansas City, Kansas, Rep Charles Fleischman, who district includes Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Reps David Rouzer and Walter Jones, who districts include parts of Wilmington, North Carolina.
The others are: Michael Turnerwhorepresents Dayton, Ohio, with a murder rate four times the national average; Garret Graveswhorepresents Baton Rouge, which has a murder rate five times the national average; and Gregg Harperwho represents Jackson, Mississippi, which has a murder rate nearly eight times the national average.
We will update responses from these representatives below as they share what strategies they support to improve the safety of their constituents. To look up other members of Congress, their positions on gun control, and their NRA ratings and history of contributions from the NRA, use the Guardians 2015 gun violence interactive. This interactive uses 2015 data on gun deaths collected by the Gun Violence Archive, not 2014 FBI data, so precise numbers and rankings will be different.
This analysis of larger cities does not include cities with fewer than 100,000 residents including East St Louis, Illinois, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas that also have dramatically high rates of violence and are represented by congressional Republicans. In 2014, East St Louis had a murder rate of 101.80 per 100,000, 22 times the national average.
Many, though not all, of the murders in these cities are committed with firearms. Nationwide, roughly 68% of all murders in 2014 were committed with a firearm, according to FBI data. The proportion of murders committed with a firearm is slightly higher in the midwest and the south than it is in the west or the north-east, according to FBI data.
Lawmakers who didnt respond: prior positions
Rep Gregg Harper, Jackson, Mississippi, 35.4 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
While it is possible that steps such as increasing the number of prosecutions for crimes committed with a firearm could help reduce gun violence, limiting the Second Amendment right of law-abiding American citizens is not the answer, he wrote in a statement responding to Barack Obamas executive actions on guns this January.
We dont need new laws to address this, he told a local TV station in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.
Rep Garret Graves, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 23.4 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
In early 2016, Graves told the Times-Picayune that some of Obamas executive actions on guns had value. The proposed management reforms related to staffing and coordination have merit, and we support the goals of improved access to mental health services, but the scope of the latter should not be limited to gun violence, he said, arguing that the president should support broader mental health bills.
Weve got to address the true root cause of the problem, and not go out there and do all these things that are simply distracting, Graves said in an early 2016 interview with a Catholic news outlet.
Part of Baton Rouge is also represented by Rep Bernie Thompson, a Democrat.
Rep Michael Turner, Dayton, Ohio, 18.9 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
Protecting the rights our forefathers codified in the Constitution is a principle I look to in my work of representing Southwest Ohio in Congress, he said in 2012, touting his endorsement and A grade from the NRA.
Rep Jackie Walorski, South Bend, Indiana, 16.9 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
When Obama announced his executive order in January, Walorski said in a statement: President Obama continues to ignore the system of checks and balances by going around the legislative branch.
When asked about the Democrats gun control sit-in last month, a spokesperson for Walorskis told a local newspaper: Congresswoman Walorski believes it is critical to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
Rep Kevin Yoder, Kansas City, Kansas, 16.8 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
The Topeka Capitol-Journal noted in January that Yoder blasted Obamas executive order before it was even announced. In a Facebook post, the Journal reported, Yoder said the president planned to subvert Congress and the American people by enacting his own gun control laws.
Lets focus our efforts on enforcing the laws on the books and enacting measures that will stop criminals, not further harassing law-abiding Americans, Yoder wrote.
Reps David Rouzer and Walter Jones, Wilmington, North Carolina, 15.9 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
President Obamas executive orders to circumvent Congress and impose new gun control measures are unconstitutional. At a time when our homeland is encountering increased terrorist threats by the day, we cannot afford to jeopardize the safety and security of our nation by placing new restrictions on law-abiding citizens constitutional right to keep and bear arms,Rouzer in January said in a statement about Obamas executive actions on guns.
Jones said in a statement about the actions: Once again, President Obama bypasses Congress with his latest executive actions on guns, a blatant disregard for the Second Amendment We need to fix our increasingly Godless culture, not expand the size of government with unconstitutional executive action.
Rep Charles Fleischman, Chattanooga, Tennessee. 15.5 murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014
In a statement on Obamas executive actions, Fleischman said: Yet again the President has taken to grandstanding instead of addressing real issues. Rather than focusing on criminals and terrorists, these executive actions go after the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
On his Issues page, Fleischman emphasizes his commitment to the second amendment: I will not support an assault weapons ban, a universal gun registry or any other initiatives that violate our Second Amendment rights. Statistics have proven that banning certain weapons and instituting stricter anti-gun policies have no effect on curbing violence.